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Edward Hopper

Born: 1882, Nyack, New York, United States of America
Died: 1967, New York, New York, United States of America

The Railroad

Etching on off-white laid paper
Plate: 7 7/8 x 9 7/8 in. (20.0 x 25.1 cm)
Sheet: 13 1/2 x 16 1/8 in. (34.3 x 41.0 cm)
Mat: 16 x 20 in. (40.6 x 50.8 cm)
Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1996.23
Signed: In graphite, lower right margin: Edward Hopper
Inscribed: In graphite, lower left corner (not by artist?): The Railroad [price erased]
Artist Name: []
Markings: In graphite, lower center edge: sa ["s" encircled]; watermarks upper right and lower left corners


In Edward Hopper's etching The Railroad, a track worker or switchman emerges from the deep shadows of a bank near a bend in a rural stretch of railroad track. The composition is divided by a slightly tilted pole cropped at the top edge of the image. It is echoed on the right by a line of telegraph poles that follow the track as it curves in the distance. To the left, the gabled roofs and chimneys of a cluster of modest houses, visible above the earthen ridge separating them from the tracks, accent the horizon. The scene juxtaposes a settlement rooted in place and a means of traveling somewhere else. Perhaps more subtly, Hopper's railroad image hints at industrialization changing the character of rural America.

Subways and trains are the subjects of several of Hopper's prints and paintings. The Railroad, however, deals with the theme of rail transport without explicitly showing a train. Instead, the workman crossing the tracks, the stark slanting poles, and the curve of empty track evoke the stillness left in the wake of a just-passed locomotive. Hopper often worked out the compositions of his prints in drawings; this one is based on a drawing now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. During the formative period of his career, when he still supported himself as a commercial artist and illustrator, Hopper concentrated on printmaking. He made The Railroad after several years of perfecting his command of intaglio technique. The image dramatically contrasts and balances areas of light and dark: the sky, which dominates the upper half of the print, is evoked by the smooth unetched portions of the etching plate, which remained uninked during the printing process; the ground is rendered by a tangled network of inked lines. To create the dense, almost solid black tones in the left portion of the image, the artist used dense scribbled cross-hatching, yet he carefully modeled the railroad worker's torso. In 1922, shortly after it was made, this print was exhibited at the National Academy of Design in New York City and at the Brooklyn Society of Etchers, in Brooklyn, New York.

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The artist
Margo Pollins Schab, Inc., New York, New York
Terra Foundation for the Arts Collection, Chicago, Illinois, 1996

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Published References

Zigrosser, Carl. "The Etchings of Edward Hopper." In Prints: Thirteen Illustrated Essays on the Art of the Print Selected for the Print Council of America, edited by Carl Zigrosser. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962. No. 24, pp. 155–73.

Levin, Gail. Edward Hopper: The Complete Prints. (exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art). New York and London, England: W. W. Norton & Company in association with the Whitney Museum of American Art, 1979. Pl. 87 (etching), pl. 88 (drawing for etching).

Jacobowitz, Ellen S. and George H. Marcus. American Graphics 1860–1940, Selected from the Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1982. No. 55, p. 58.

Creation & Craft: Three Centuries of American Prints. (exh. cat., Hirschl & Adler Galleries). New York: Hirschl & Adler Galleries, 1990. No. 87, p. 85.

Levin, Gail. Edward Hopper: A Catalog Raisonné. 4 vols. New York: W. W. Norton & Company in association with the Whitney Museum of American Art, 1995. Vol. III: fig. 231.1, p. 156.

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